By Barry Rubin
1.) What makes Israel: An Introduction different than the other introductions to Israel on the market? What makes the book unique?
Actually, I don’t think there is a single book that provides a
comprehensive explanation of Israel’s land, people, history, society,
economy, politics, and culture. What we have had are two types of books:
those on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including those by journalists who
didn’t know the language or much about the country, on one hand, and
impressionistic books written by people who visit for a few weeks and
write mostly on the conflict, emphasizing interviews with extremists on
both ends and often making ludicrous mistakes. There has never been a
book about the actual country and the real people who live there.
I say that because there is no country in the world that foreigners
think they know more about but really know less about than Israel. So
this book is written based on the work on insiders and is comprehensive.
What is very pleasing is that so many people have learned a lot by
reading Israel: An Introduction.
2.) What are the key themes that readers should take away from it?
most important theme is one that was once central but has generally
been forgotten: Israel is a remarkable success story. We should remember
the difficulties it faced in transforming a land without resources,
surviving so much hostility, and turning a people with many differences
and no military or governmental experience into a stable and prosperous
second theme is the creation of a unique society—simultaneously diverse
and united–mixing Jewish religious, Jewish historical, both eastern
and western European, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influences.
There are many surprises that belie the stereotypes.
also think Israel is interesting as a variant of modern, Western,
democratic society. True, Israel has been in some ways a canary in the
coal mine for the world, though the cave-in has long since happened. But
it is also a model for something else. This is why Israel is so
important and interesting for Western Christians, Africans, and Asians.
It is also one of the reasons why Israel is so hated by some sectors
among Western elites. Israel is a nation-state at a time when that is
unfashionable; melds religion into the national character when
anti-religious views are held by Western elites, and is ready to defend
itself at a time when self-defense is viewed as being close to immoral.
While the foundation was laid by democratic socialism, prosperity was
later by jettisoning statism and turning toward free enterprise.
a real sense, Israel is the Western radical left’s worse nightmare—and
that applies to the Jews among them. That’s why they must slander it and
try to ensure its delegitimation, failure, and even destruction. Of
course, that effort will fail.
3.) You have previously written that you don’t believe Israel
will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? Do you still believe that? Or do
you think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is now seriously considering a
Not exactly. What I have written is that there was never a possibility
that Israel would attack Iran now, meaning 2012. There is a high
possibility of an attack in the 2013-2015 period. I was explaining an
attack wasn’t going to happen at a time when virtually everyone in the
world was saying the opposite. Now it is clear that my assessment was
correct. I only mention this as a matter of credibility in judging
4.) Do Israelis trust President Obama to have their back, as he recently declared he did?
Of course not. And everyone knows it even though they need to be polite
in public since Israel must deal with the president that American
5.) Do you believe a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel?
Of course it is an existential threat. The question is whether that
threat can be dealt with by means other than by an Israeli attack to
prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
I believe that there is a better alternative strategy which is a
U.S.-backed Israeli ability to attack Tehran’s facilities if it needed
to do so along with a real credible containment and a multi-level
defensive system to make such a need to attack less necessary.
Let’s remember by the way that when the Democratic Party’s single
largest contributor asked Senator Hillary Clinton what she would do in
the face of an Iranian nuclear threat to attack Iran she said she would
flatten them. Senator Barack Obama said he would study the matter.
Obama’ weakness and waste of time has made things much worse and has
made a future war more, not less, likely.
6.) What do you think have been President Obama’s greatest weaknesses
handling the crises in the Middle East that have arisen during his
His misunderstanding and romance with anti-American, antisemitic
revolutionary Islamists. His embrace of the Islamist regime in Turkey.
His slowness and uncertainty in countering Iran’s growing power, with
the conventional and subversive means used by Tehran being as dangerous
as nuclear weapons. His failure to support Israel and his making the
diplomatic peace process worse. It is a very long list.
7.) How should the U.S. handle the turmoil in Egypt? Should the U.S. cut off aid to Egypt?
It is too late in many respects. Obama should have followed the State
Department’s proposal to support Mubarak’s ouster and a careful
transition back in January-February 2011. Then, instead of working with
the army and the moderates, the U.S. government embraced the Muslim
Brotherhood and the media falsely presented that group as moderate.
As of now, it is too early to cut off military aid. The army is not the
real enemy and there is no evidence it won’t turn over power to
civilians. At this point, aid should be continued to prevent the army
from collapsing or being radicalized. But at some time in the future the
U.S. government will probably have to threaten credibly to cut off aid
in response to Egyptian government behavior and might actually have to
stop the aid.
But the U.S. government needs to recognize the threat of Islamism in
Egypt and the fact that the Brotherhood is its main enemy. It needs to
support three forces: the anti-Islamist Arab states, notably Saudi
Arabia and Jordan; Israel; and the real democratic and anti-Islamist
forces in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere.
8.) What do you think of American commentators like MJ Rosenberg and
Peter Beinart, as well as groups like J Street, focusing on Israeli
settlements as if they are the number one issue preventing peace between
Israel and its neighbors?
For the first time in history, there is a well-financed, systematic
campaign to try to destroy American Jewish support for Israel. The
Israeli government has not backed the establishment of a single new
settlement or the geographic expansion of any existing settlement since
1993. And if the Palestinian leadership had accepted a two-state
solution in 2000 almost all of the settlements would have been
dismantled years ago, just as happened in the Gaza Strip. So blaming
everything on the settlements—absurd to anyone with a real knowledge of
the situation—is an effort to avoid confronting the Palestinian and
widespread Arab and Muslim rejection of Israel’s existence. That’s what
blocked peace before there were any settlements and still do so today
and for a long time to come.
9.) Any plans to write another book? If so, about what?
My next book is already completed and I think it is going to have a big impact. It is entitled, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East,
written with Dr. Wolfgang Schwanitz, and based on newly released CIA
and never before translated German documents. Basically, it shows how
the alliance was stronger and more important than previously understood
and also how individuals, ideologies, and groups that collaborated with
the Axis have ruled the Arabic-speaking world for the last sixty years
and will continue to do so in the current Islamist wave.
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.